MARQUETTE - A program that helps veterans obtain needed medical care is looking to do even more for Upper Peninsula veterans in the coming year.
The Iron Mountain Veterans Administration Medical Center launched its Veterans Transportation Service this month. While for now, the service has one route that includes stops in communities from Norway to Rapid River, it will add more routes across the U.P. and northern Wisconsin once two new vans arrive sometime this spring.
The VTS is designed to work in conjunction with a long-running, well-respected transportation program operated by the Disabled American Veterans organization, said Isaac Armstrong, transportation coordinator for the Oscar G. Johnson Medical Center in Iron Mountain. The new program will add another transportation option.
Isaac Armstrong, who works as transportation coordinator for the Oscar G. Johnson Medical Center in Iron Mountain, is pictured. (Submitted photo)
"They have been doing what I'm doing for years, as volunteers," Armstrong said. "I am working to coordinate things to facilitate patient pickup, so we're not duplicating things. There are a lot of great volunteers with the DAV program and they will continue to provide the same great service."
But with two new 16-passenger vans on order, the VTS will be able to accommodate some veterans who could not be transported in the present vehicle.
"We'll be able to transport those in wheelchairs or with walkers or with oxygen tanks," Armstrong said. "That will be something new."
The Iron Mountain VA Medical Center serves about 24,000 veterans, Armstrong said.
Starting Jan. 4, one route was launched in the VTS program. Stops on this first route are in Norway, Hermansville, Powers, Bark River, Escanaba, Gladstone and Rapid River. The program is a round-trip venture, Armstrong explained, with patients using the service scheduling their appointments between 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. CST on Wednesdays and the VTS picking them up in the morning and returning them home in the afternoon.
While other routes won't be in place until the new vans arrive, the VTS is still available to all veterans who need assistance getting to medical appointments made through the VA, Armstrong explained.
"Ideally, we'd like 24 to 48 hours notice of the appointment and the service is offered on a first-come, first-served basis," he said. "The earlier we know about a veteran needing to get to an appointment, the better. So as soon as the appointment is scheduled, the veteran should get in touch with us so we can work on arrangements."
While technically, the geographic area is a 50-mile radius from the center, Armstrong doesn't want that to be a deterrent to veterans contacting him.
"We want all veterans to call us. We will do whatever we can," he said. "We push to 100 miles away or even more.
"Something I'd like to stress to all veterans in the area is that we want them to still call in, even if they think they're outside our range," Armstrong said. "I want to help them with their questions. And the VTS is a completely free service and anyone with a scheduled appointment at the VA is eligible to take part."
For more information on the program, call Armstrong at 1-800-215-8262 ext. 33849 or email him at email@example.com.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.